By Ron Scalzo
S uperior horror films provide an unforgettable moment or three that give the viewer a jolt – it could be makeup, it could be music, it could be a crazy character that elevates the tension. But the best horror films ratchet up the tension slowly. They have a creepy vibe from the get-go, and that vibe never lets up, instead it simmers to a boil. The Exorcist is one of these films; Halloween, The Thing and Rosemary’s Baby also come to mind.
But the movie that creeped me out the most as a kid – from beginning to end – was The Shining.
To an impressionable 8 year-old viewer, The Shining is relentless. The blood spurting elevator, the twin dead girls, the decomposing woman in Room 237, the creepy kid who talks to his finger, Redrum, Come and Play with Us Danny. The Overlook Hotel’s nightmarish wallpaper.
The Shining was one of those movies that always seemed to be on TV year-round. Once again it was local station WPIX (or in New York, “Channel 11”) that transfixed me, the trailer’s voiceover promoting “A King-size nightmare from the Master of Horror” as Jack starts chopping down the bathroom door, preparing to utter one of cinema’s most famous ad-libs.
The Shining has its detractors, not least of all Stephen King, who probably has reason to gripe. Infamously, the movie is not exactly faithful to King’s novel, and is an entity of its own thanks to the vision of director Stanley Kubrick. Although a huge fan of King’s work as a kid, it was the movie that crossed my path long before I got my hands on that particular book, as I opted for the likes of Cujo, Carrie, and It instead.
Why I was reading Cujo at 8 years old is another story…
People remember Jack Nicholson at his most over-the-top as Jack Torrance, a struggling writer slowly descending into madness who becomes a threat to his gifted son and mousy wife – an axe-wielding Pop who ultimately becomes a Popsicle. Jack threatens to huff, puff, and blow The Overlook down (in the book, he blows it up, martyring himself to save his wife and son from the hotel’s ghostly powers), and he soon looks very much the part of the Big Bad Wolf – hairy, manic, disheveled.
Then there is the saga of Scatman Crothers, who, in the role of Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s African-American chef, is the only character in the film to actually fall victim to Big Bad Wolf Jack. Hallorann, a kindred spirit to young Danny (anyone who offers me free ice cream should be considered a kindred spirit) has a premonition about the Torrances’ demise, flies all the way from his pimp pad in Florida (nice wall art!) to Colorado, then takes an hours-long journey up a mountain in a snowcat during a blizzard to try to save the day. He’s not at The Overlook for more than a few minutes before Jack greets him with an axe to the torso, not even offering to take his coat first. Talk about a rude host.
But perhaps the creepiest scene in the entire movie, one that still baffles a lot of folks, is a seemingly throwaway scene towards the film’s conclusion in which the hotel starts ‘revealing’ itself to Shelley Duvall’s Wendy. Fleeing her insane husband after proving herself surprisingly handy with a baseball bat and a kitchen knife, Wendy starts to see the ghosts inhabiting the hotel. She climbs a staircase and stares into a room where a man in a dog costume appears about to get down and dirty with a man in a tuxedo.
This is no Clifford The Big Red Dog costume, either. The gone-in-a-flash scene is an allusion to the King novel in which a costume party is going on at the haunted Overlook, and the hotel’s owner (tuxedo guy) and his homosexual lover (dog suit guy) are in the throes of passion. The movie never references the party, making the scene completely random, and even more traumatizing.
The style and scope of Kubrick’s film, not to mention the contributions of Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown and score composers Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkland, make the movie an aesthetic masterpiece. Once derided, The Shining is now considered a classic. It’s one of my all-time favorite films, and the last of a dozen movies that truly scared the shit out of me.
-Art by Rick Parker
Follow Ron Scalzo on Twitter @BaldFreakMusic
READ PART 1 (PSYCHO)
READ PART 2 (ALIEN)
READ PART 3 (JAWS)
READ PART 4 (PINOCCHIO)
READ PART 5 (CREEPSHOW)
READ PART 6 (THE EXORCIST)
READ PART 7 (TOURIST TRAP)
READ PART 8 (SLEEPING BEAUTY)
READ PART 9 (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON)
READ PART 10 (THE EXORCIST III)
READ PART 11 (POLTERGEIST)